Ross from Friends: We meet FlyLo’s latest export
“…This is definitely the most personal music I’ve made…”
The mention of Ross From Friends might cause most people to think of a certain US sitcom character big on dinosaurs and synthesizers – but a UK producer by the name of Felix Clary Weatherall is beginning to change that.
After a slew of blissed out productions that were swept up in the ‘lo-fi house’ revival of 2016 on labels such as Lobster Theremin and Magicwire, the London-based artist began touring a live show which expressed an ambition far greater than his productions thus far. It’s on his latest album Family Portrait that these goals were realised, in a striking variety of futuristic yet current sounds which swing between the abstract and the explicit effortlessly. It’s no wonder that an artist as forward-thinking as Flying Lotus has picked Ross up – the new record now rightfully sits among releases from esteemed artists such as Thundercat and Kamasi Washington – taking the name further away from both the forgotten US sitcom and the already extinct lo-fi house scene. We sent Ben Aston to hear more about what Ross has in mind for his set at Hope Works this month alongside Space Dimension Controller, Willow, Hodge and more.
First things first: after the initial Aphelion EP, Family Portrait is your second release on Flying Lotus’ Brainfeeder label. How did that partnership come around?
FlyLo just got in touch with me a couple of years ago over Twitter saying that he liked my music. That was obviously a massive compliment coming from someone who’s got to be an idol to so many people making electronic music. Pretty quickly afterwards he asked me whether I wanted to make some music for his record label, which was hard to decline. Brainfeeder have a great outlook, Flylo said that he wanted me to make exactly the project that I wanted to make which was such a great thing to hear.
It must have been a pretty significant moment for you personally.
Yes, definitely. As a kid, his Los Angeles album resonated with me deeply since I was a big hip-hop boy back then. It was amazing; it was like I was being proposed to.
Did knowing that the album would be released on Brainfeeder affect the way you created it?
It’s been a label that has always pushed such a creative, innovative sound, so I definitely wanted that to come across. I wanted to make something explosive and Brainfeeder felt like a perfect fit. I felt like that was where my music was going at that point.
Being honest, I was slightly disappointed to find out your dad wasn’t Andrew Weatherall. However, you have been quoted as saying that the title, Family Portrait, is inspired by the influence your parents had on you becoming a producer (many thanks to Mr and Mrs Weatherall). Why is it that you’ve decided to show your appreciation on this album specifically?
I’ve had a lot of people confusing me with Andrew Weatherall’s son, which is pretty funny. Yeah, this is definitely the most personal music I’ve made. My parents are always massively influential in everything I do, but I’d never really spent the time to think about that influence before I made this. I love them and respect them and I wanted to do something that could actively contain a part of them within it.
Looking at the track listings, the titles are a mix of personal experiences, such as ‘Happy Birthday Nick’, ‘Wear Me Down’ and ‘Family Portrait’; juxtaposed with more sombre motifs like ‘Project Cybersyn’ or ‘Parallel Sequence’. Is there a message to be sought in these names, considering the album’s influences?
I was trying to really just express myself with the track titles. So I think of them as all little parts of my personality and who I am. They’ve all got meanings, ones that stay very personal to me. Some of them are emotional connections, or just inside jokes that I have with friends and with myself.
“I just thought it was a cool concept they were doing – replacing the government’s economic indicators with robots.”
As everyone’s bound to know, Project Cybersyn was an economic management tool used by the Chilean Government during the 1970s. Are you a particular advocate of South American socialism? It’d probably make you quite popular in Sheffield if you were…
I’d be lying if I said that I knew a lot about South American socialism. But I just thought it was a cool concept they were doing – replacing the government’s economic indicators with robots. It’s on a list of things that were kind of funny when people first realised the power of computers.
The critical reception of this album has frequently mentioned that despite maintaining many of the features that distinguish your producing, such as an emphasis on melody, you’ve ‘moved on’ in some way. Would you agree that this is true?
Yeah, I definitely agree. And it was a conscious decision to move on. I wanted to experiment a lot with genre in this album, while keeping my love of melody and sampling within the project.
Would you ever consider ‘doing a Rachel’ and move on from Ross to a different project?
I have loads of different side-projects that I start. They all end up coming into the Ross From Friends world, though. That’s another reason why the album is so varied; it’s everything that I’d been working on thrown into a bag.
You’re down to perform at Sheffield’s Hope Works in September alongside Space Dimension Controller, Willow & more. However, this isn’t the first time you’ve played at Hope Works, having performed alongside Mall Grab for Pretty Pretty Good last year. What did you think of it the last time you were down?
Yeah, I had a great time last time I was there. It was in December and we turned up really early to sound check in the outdoor marquee. It felt like we were at a free party or something, all dingy and cold. But when the party started going that place completely transformed, it was brilliant. I can’t wait to go back there.
Space Dimension Controller will also be playing a live set on the same night. Why is Ross From Friends a live performance instead of a DJ set?
I like that I can travel with my friends. That’s a really important part. Also the performative element of being able to write the music as you’re hearing it – it’s so much fun. I love DJing, too, and that has things that I can’t find with the live show.How much of your set is performed on the night? I remember a guitar being present last time I saw you perform!
We try to make it so that we can improvise as much as possible. Those moments are when we really get into it and it feels exciting. I control the structure of the tracks through loops and there are a few motifs that the other guys know to play, but other than that the set is improvised.
Who plays alongside you when you perform?
Jed (AKAThe Hog) plays guitar and John (aka The Governor of the BPM aka The Bubble) plays the Micro Korg and Saxophone, they both have super teched-out set-ups and contribute a lot of sound design.
Do they have any influence Ross From Friends’ creative output?
When we’re playing live, a lot of the structures and instrumentation dictate where the track will go. I would bring a few loops to a rehearsal sessions and we’d try out ideas, and improvise when we’re playing until something really works, then I take those ideas and often form them into a recorded track in the studio.
Finally, is Ross From Friends a moniker you’re planning to keep for life? Can you see yourself becoming the Ross From Friends to the British Public?
I’d love it if the term ‘Ross From Friends’ was kinda ubiquitous. That sounds appealing. I also like the idea of being a really old man and still making dance music. With those two things considered, the answer would have to be ‘yes’.
Tickets for Hope Works’ party on 28 September with Ross From Friends (Live), Space Dimension Controller (Live), Willow, Hodge and many more are available from £20 here.